Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

Top of the class

Rita, Emily Armstrong, and Frank, Rob Phillips find education can be a mutual affair

Educating Rita

Highbury Theatre Centre


WILLY Russell's Educating Rita is a biting examination of the world of further education and academia and it has continued to entertain audiences since its creation in 1980.

So just in time for the new Autumn term, Highbury players open the main stage to one of the best productions of it you are ever likely to see.

Rita, a manic 29 year old hairdresser, joins a part time Open University literature course, dreaming of poetry and book lined panelled rooms under the tutorship of Frank. After years of teaching Frank is now weary of the pompous and pretentious world that reduces great writing to nothing more than repetitive argument and multiple choices on an examination paper.

It's a wonderful collision of two differing cultures who pull apart the realities of creative writing while each struggling with their personal demons.

The real joy of the play is the skilfully written opposing views on literary argument and Rob Phillips as Frank and Emily Armstrong as Rita deliver such convincing performances that you would have thought the words their own.

Mr Phillips is a familiar face to the Highbury stage and has taken on a wide range of characters over the years but in this the role it is the best I have seen him perform. He is assured and confident as Frank but vulnerable and measured once his attachment to Rita has formed and especially after she fails to turn up to her weekly lessons.

Equally matched in power and subtly is Emily Armstrong as the scatterbrain hairdresser Rita. Local girl Emily, who has been performing since she was three, owned the role from the second she entered the stage. Educating Rita is a two handed play yet both of the characters often refer to their never seen partners. When Rita tells the story of her husband burning her study books you feel genuinely upset for her, so convincing is she in the role.

The timing between both of them and genuine concern for each of their respective lives, together with the detailed emotional transformations that happen to each of them during the Educating of Rita was a joy to watch.

Director Denise Phillips is no stranger to the play having played Rita herself at Highbury 24 years ago. Her experience and knowledge of the work shone through with a skilful navigation of this Willy Russell classic.

Educating Rita is a play that will endure as its themes are universal. Having seen the play a few times over the years and expecting to do so again in the future, it must be said that this is the performance that will be the bench mark and the one to beat, either amateur or professional.

A final testament to the work done here was another audience member who remarked in the interval that this performance should get some sort of award and as they say the customer is always right.

It's a delightful and accomplished production and as a lesson in acting craft, it's top of the class. To 28-09-13.

Jeff Grant

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